MONTEGO BY, St James — President of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) Mark Golding says he is prepared to once again listen to arguments for and against Jamaica enforcing the death penalty as a punishment for serious and violent crimes.
However, he pointed out that enforcing what is on the books will pose a legal challenge.
“It is going to be difficult to achieve with the Privy Council as our final court because they have made the bar almost impossible to hurdle in a number of cases which they have decided. Essentially they are saying that unless it’s the worst of the worst situation, it’s unconstitutional to enforce the death penalty, even though it is the law of the land. It is on the books in Jamaica as the penalty for capital murder. So that is a problem,” stated Golding.
He was speaking with the Jamaica Observer in the community of Roehampton during a tour of St James Southern on Wednesday.
Capital punishment by hanging remains legal in Jamaica and the only crime punishable by death is aggravated murder. The last person to be executed was Nathan Foster, who was convicted of murder and hanged in 1988.
However, over the years calls have become louder for the death penalty to be enforced. The calls typically come in the wake of a heinous crime such as the killing of two students in a taxi on Monday.
Addressing a post-Cabinet media briefing on Wednesday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness indicated that the high level of criminal violence has caused him to give further thought to his initial views on the issue.
“My own view on the penalty for murder has evolved. I was never a supporter of the death penalty, but the more I study this matter and begin to understand the minds of the criminals, [I realise they have] no soul… they have no heart; they need to be removed from among us. But I am not here to get into a debate about the jurisprudence on this matter. But within the limits of that jurisprudence I believe the highest, possible should be applied as currently the penalties now are not a deterrent,” said Holness.
“Now is the time for the nation to speak in one clear voice to the soulless, heartless criminals amongst us. We are going to remove you from our community. Let us get the toughest measures in place,” the prime minister added.
In reacting to the prime minister’s expression of his personal view on the matter, Golding said the Opposition would allow its members to express themselves as individuals if the matter came up for a vote. That was the approach taken when the matter came to a vote within the Parliament a decade ago and that would be the approach taken the next time the issue is raised.
“We didn’t enforce what’s called a whip. We didn’t tell our MPs and senators what the party line was. Everybody decided in their own conscience how they felt about it. And that continues to be our position. Some people feel it’s effective or they see that it’s not really a deterrent. And, it’s dangerous because innocent people sometimes…can be put to death wrongfully. So, there are different views on it,” stated Golding.